by Jean Heyduck
Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry

Fall is my favorite season. It always has been – even when I lived in Wisconsin. But in the Lowcountry, autumn is especially spectacular.

The cooler temperatures and lower humidity mean I can leave the house with confidence, knowing my hair won’t expand into a cotton-candy-like mass of frizz. I can sit comfortably on my screened porch – in the middle of the afternoon! – and enjoy the lapis blue sky and a less hostile sun.

In addition to the natural beauty brought on by all these changes, the Lowcountry enjoys some man-made beauty every other fall. I’m talking about the Public Art Exhibition on Hilton Head Island.

Every two years Community Foundation of the Lowcountry partners with the Town of Hilton Head Island and Coastal Discovery Museum to host a four-month-long exhibition of attention-grabbing, large-scale sculptures. This free exhibition draws artists from around the globe whose works temporarily grace the fields, marshes and gardens of Honey Horn. It’s the only exhibition like it in the region.

To understand how the present day exhibition came to be, you must first understand a little of the history behind it. The Public Art Fund was established at Community Foundation of the Lowcountry in 2006 with a mission of securing permanent public art. It is one of over 350 funds at the Community Foundation.

The fund unveiled its first piece in 2010, with the commissioning of “Charles Fraser,” a bronze, life-sized statue that’s installed at Compass Rose Park. (Here’s an interesting fact: The piece was created by two separate artists. Susie Chisholm, from Savannah, created Charles Fraser and Darrell Davis, from Texas, created the gator.)  In 2011, the Public Art Fund Advisory Committee decided to make Public Art, well, more public. They mapped out an exhibition plan that, for the most part, we still follow today: 20 large-scale pieces that are temporarily installed in a lush, outdoor setting; a free exhibition that is open for four months; and, at the end of the exhibition, one piece that’s purchased by the Community Foundation’s Public Art Fund, then donated and permanently installed in a public space on the island.

It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? However, it takes months and months of planning by the Public Art Fund Advisory Committee – a group of about 20 dedicated and hard-working local artists, art enthusiasts, curators and community leaders – to make it all come together.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is how the artists are selected. A year before the exhibition opens, a call for entry is sent to thousands of sculptors. We receive hundreds of submissions from around the world. A jury, which is a subcommittee of the Public Art Advisory Committee and includes a curatorial consultant from Telfair Museums, “culls the herd” so to speak, looking through each submission and, through multiple jurying phases, narrows it down to 25 pieces – 20 top selections and five alternates.

Extensive communication with the artists ensues. We ask for their installation requirements (which can include the need for heavy equipment) and schedule their installation, which takes place over two days in late September. We provide lodging for the artists so we must coordinate their arrivals and departures. We also plan events around the exhibition, including an artist party one night and our exhibition opening the next. This year the exhibition opening is part of Crescendo and the public is invited on September 27, at Coastal Discovery Museum, starting at 5 p.m.).

Ensuring each piece finds its optimum location means our jury walks the grounds of Honey Horn – usually on the hottest, most oppressively humid day in July – deciding where each piece will be placed. We work closely with the Town of Hilton Head Island and Coastal Discovery Museum to ensure that “no plants or trees are harmed during the making of the exhibition” and no damage results from the weight or height of the pieces. (We’ve had a piece that weighs 4,000 pounds that was very carefully installed in the camellia gardens.)

Before the exhibition opens, we partner with Island School Council for the Arts to arrange for local high school students to help one or two artists install their pieces. ISCA also arranges for artists to visit local schools to offer hands-on learning programs and schedules field trips during the exhibition. This year some of our participating artists will also visit private communities to give lectures.

We want the community to get involved, so we ask exhibition visitors to vote for their favorite piece (People’s Choice Awards) via paper ballot, online ballot and Facebook polling. The artists of the three top vote-getting pieces receive a cash prize. However, it’s important to understand that the People’s Choice Awards do not determine which piece is ultimately selected for purchase. That is based on different criteria such as longevity of material, maintenance requirements, how the piece fits into the selected space and price.

The Public Art Exhibition on Hilton Head Island is truly a labor of love. It officially starts on October 1 and runs through January 31, 2019 at Coastal Discovery Museum. Admission is free and the exhibition is open during regular museum hours. Take some time to enjoy the exhibition – and the beautiful fall weather!

Check out the full list of exhibiting artists online here.